Thomas J. O’Neill, 48, sat back in an office chair at Thomas J. O’Neill, Inc., his real estate and home design company in Mashpee Commons, modestly describing the business and community work that earned him the 2014 Mashpee Citizen of the Year Award. It will be presented at the Mashpee Chamber Annual Dinner on May 13 at the Willowbend Country Club, along with awards for Department of Public Works director Catherine E. Laurent for distinguished service and the Mashpee Cares group for community commitment.
While his list of community contributions is endless, Mr. O’Neill said that his motivation to give back stems from the support he receives from others.
“There’s an endorsement of community service here for anyone who does [it],” he said. “People give you a chance and get behind you.”
The New Seabury resident has been an active member of the local community since he opened his business in 1992, serving on the boards of the chamber of commerce, the Cape Cod Children’s Museum, the Mashpee Library Construction Committee, the Mashpee Community Concert Committee, and the Cape Cod Foundation at various times.
In 2009, he said that he helped “rebuild the chamber of commerce” when members had considered merging the Mashpee chamber with Falmouth’s. Mr. O’Neill also fundraises for a local chapter of the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association and served as co-chairman of the St. Mary’s Education Fund for two years.
When asked how his dedication to community service began, he said, “I saw my parents do it.” Despite moving multiple times throughout his childhood, he said that his parents always found ways to contribute to their communities.
Today, his service efforts are multifaceted.
“I’m also a composer,” he said, explaining that he has been working with musical groups to record his songs for the past couple of years. Several of them are sung by award-winning Irish folk singer Moya Brennan—who is the singer Enya’s older sister—whom he met while organizing local benefit concerts for the ALS Family Charitable Foundation, Inc.
After one event, Mr. O’Neill volunteered to write a song for the organization that was performed at a later fundraiser.
“I saw how people were affected by it,” he said. “That told me I could bring something else to this business.”
Since then, he has written more than 40 songs, including an American anthem inspired by “America the Beautiful” and a song called “The Memory of Your Name,” which is dedicated to US Marine Corps Captain Eric A. Jones, the son of Mashpee residents Cynthia J. and Kenneth A. Jones, who died in 2009 while serving in Afghanistan.
“He was a Marine, so I used honor and respect [in the lyrics],” he said, adding that he hopes to sell CDs of the recording to benefit Heroes in Transition, a not-for-profit organization started by Mr. and Ms. Jones to help veterans and their families.
In fact, Mr. O’Neill hopes to use many of his songs to generate awareness about issues and support for nonprofit organizations.
“I’m a big dreamer and I believe in reaching for the stars and trying things,” he said, “and I think that’s the kind of community that we are.”
A Distinguished Service Award will be presented to Ms. Laurent, the director of the Mashpee Department of Public Works.
“There isn’t any community event that she doesn’t volunteer for, from the Community Picnic to the Christmas parade,” town manager Joyce M. Mason said of Ms. Laurent, “Anyone who needs help in the community, she never says, ‘No.’ ”
In her nomination letter, Ms. Mason also referenced Ms. Laurent’s dedicated promotion of the town’s recycling program, participation in the Capewide Big Fix, and fundraising efforts for causes such as medical research.
“She’s very deserving of this award and gives back above and beyond,” she said.
Mashpee Cares will receive the Community Commitment Award for its efforts toward promoting health, well-being, and positive choices in the community.
Mashpee Cares is a townwide wellness project that was initially spearheaded by school superintendent Ann M. Bradshaw and revived by selectman Michael R. Richardson and library director Kathleen M. Mahoney. This year, their efforts have resulted in a drug return program through the Mashpee Police Department and a family wellness conference at Mashpee High School.
“I’m glad that somebody realizes that we’re here,” Mr. Richardson said. “The world is full of people with good intentions and we stated our intentions to educate and make people aware [of townwide issues].”
To promote a drug-free community, members of the organization coined the phrase, “It’s not going to start at my house.” Mr. Richardson hopes that soon, Mashpee Cares will become an official town committee.